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A Word From Tim Downs - August 



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Dear Friends, 

On August 1 , I had surgery for a partial knee replacement followed by a brief hospital 
stay. My recuperation continues at home with daily flexing of the knee for six hours 
and an hour or so of exercise. I have to keep my leg prone, so mobility, as we say 
"has been compromised". I say all this not for cards or sympathy, but to set context. 
The past three weeks have turned out to be a very rich time of prayer, reading, 
reflection, wonderful conversations and correspondence with colleagues, family and 
friends. 



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UNITED CHURCH of CHRIST 



UCC News 

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Headlines from the United 
Church of Christ 

New Media Project examines 
church's use of emerging 
technologies 
Just three months into its 
launch, the New Media Project 
at Union Theological Seminary 
has already gained footing in 
exploring improved ways in 
which pastors and lay leaders 
might use new technologies to 
strengthen their communities. 



Is Training Available? 




PROGRESSIVE 
RENEWAL' 




There have been particular matters that have 
drawn my attention and thought. Let me share 
one of them. Before I left the office for this time 
away, I looked at the treasurer's report for the 
conference and noted that at the end of June 
giving by churches to OCWM (Our Church's 
Wider Mission) Basic Support was $30,000 
behind where it was at this time last year. With 
an annual budgeted figure of $300,000 for 
OCWM in 201 1 , that is a significant number. 
Without going further into the figures, I do not 
know whether there is a pattern or cause for 
concern. Therefore, raising this matter is not my 
effort to induce panic or arouse guilt, but instead 
to invite reflection on the question "why is this?" 



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8/5/13 2:26 PM 



Some might say that this $30,000 shortfall is one reflection of the malaise that is 
settling over our nation. We may be on the cusp of a second recession and 
unemployment remains tenaciously high. Our children are unable to find jobs; our 
political leaders disappoint us by their lack of vision, imagination or even basic 
leadership. They too often resort to the cheapest impulses of politics, fear, blame, 
xenophobia, cowardice. In the midst of this uncertainty, some of our congregations lack 
confidence, or hope for their future. This may be. However, this season of economic 
and social malaise is not new, and to this point, many of our churches have continued 
to support our shared ministries and missions through OCWM in a spirit of abundance 
and not out of a fear of scarcity. Therefore, if this is a part of it, it is not the sum of it. 



OCWM 



Others might say, 
"Well, we are behind 
in giving because live 
in a post- 
denominational age. People just do not value denominations, their purpose and roles 
the way their parents did Institutional loyalty have faded, they don't join the Rotary Club 
and Elks Lodge the way they used to and they frankly don't see the purpose of church, 
let alone denominations." This truth is widely repeated in mainline denominational 
settings, but consider this: While the United Church of Christ and all mainline churches 
are in significant decline, the Southeast Conference has defied that trend, doubling in 
size in the last decade. We look forward to similar growth in the next decade. We have 
attracted extraordinary leadership, seen major increases in giving to our mission, and 
doubled our budget in ten years. 



Repeatedly, people approach me to say, "I never knew that there was a church like the 
United Church of Christ, thank God!" In addition, "I did not know that followers of Christ 
would take his life and preaching fully to heart, and welcome the outcast, proclaim a 
Gospel of grace, not judgment, seek to be signs of God's redemptive purpose not only 
in the human heart but in the world." Said another way, we are a people who 
understand that justice take place when love growth legs and walks in the world. If we 



ive in a post-denominational world, in many ways, I believe that the UCC and the 
Southeast Conference are well equipped to live into a post-denominational reality. 



Perhaps we are $30,000 off last year's giving because local churches see OCWM (Our 
Church's Wider Mission) Basic Support as "out there", "not us". When I was a local 
church pastor, I often sat in Finance Committee meetings facing the grim news again 
that "we just can't balance our budget, it's time to cut OCWM again. After all, OCWM 
doesn't touch our lives." I found this an interesting train of thought for a church, which 
turned unselfconsciously to the conference to seek a new pastor, scholarship for a 
seminarian, to assist with a conflict or a stewardship program. In the Southeast, we do 
all this and more. We bring a TAP group in to train your leaders at your request, 
provide coaching and support for your pastor. If there is one message that I want to be 
sure in heard it is that "OCWM is not about THEM out there, it is about US, all of us, all 
of us together." 

Of course, there is something bigger in giving through OCWM than the ways in which it 
equips a conference to serve us in our local churches. In the United Church of Christ, 
we often talk of covenant as that quality of relationship that binds us to one another 
and to God. There is a covenant between local congregations and the conference. 
Each local congregation is the presence of the United Church of Christ in its place and 
time. The conference has a sacred covenant to support and nurture that presence of 
our mission by strengthening it and equipping it. Likewise, each congregation has a 
sacred covenant with the conference to strengthen and equip it. We need each other to 
live fully into the mission to which God has called us, supporting each other "on every 
leaning side". 




One of the most identifiable characteristics 
of the United Church of Christ is that we are 
the people of "a still speaking God." The God 
is Still Speaking campaign, which originated 

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8/5/13 2:26 PM 






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result of tremendous creativity and devotion 
of resources. It has had a dramatic impact 
on most of the churches of this conference, 
many of whom will proudly say at the 
beginning of a worship service; "no matter 
whom you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcomed here." This shared 
identity is another piece of our covenant, in which we claim a common value together. 



Some of you were at the Annual Meeting of 
the conference, which took place at Central 
Congregational UCC in Atlanta in June. You 
heard Gary Myers, the pastor of Trinity 
Congregational UCC in Athens, AL, stand up 
and say the following. "If you ever have 
wondered whether OCWM giving makes a 
difference, I am here to tell you that the day 
after the hurricanes ripped through my 
community, and tore through the homes of 
my members, I received a call from the conference. Shortly after that, we received 
support with which we reached out to our community. You were there for US because 
you give to OCWM; you made a difference!" OCWM is not just about you, or about the 
local churches, the conference and us, it is also the way in which we are presented to a 
wounded and grieving world. It is in this way that we work to bring hope and wholeness 
with our partner churches around the world. Through it, we bring messages of peace, 
of justice and of grace. 




So, if the Conference ends 201 1 in a deficit 
will there is a crisis? I have learned that 
"crying wolf" about deficits in the local church 
and in the conference does not tend to 
generate generosity but anxiety. My 
assurance is that the conference will be here 
and the best of our ability to support you and 
our ministries around the world. We can 
muddle through. Nevertheless, doesn't God 
deserve a little better from us than "muddling 
through?" We in the Southeast Conference have always been a people, whose vision 
is our greatest gift, and it has gotten us through seasons of scarcity and times of fear, 
but I believe that we truly do have the capacity to equip our vision, with leaders, with 
prayer, and yes, with giving. I have written, "This is not about YOU this is about US." 
However, you know, of course, it is about YOU, because you are a precious and 
inseparable part of US. 




hope that over the coming years, OCWM will not be at the bottom of your 
congregation's commitments, but be at the top of that pile. I hope too that you will be 
able to find it in your hearts to respond with joy at the opportunity to be a part of a 
ministry that has touched so many around the world, beginning in your own pews, and 
walking with love and justice around the world. 



Peace, 

Tim Downs, Conference Minister 
Timothy C. DownsTimothy C. Downs 



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